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Friday 25th May 2018

Reform to NHS charge system

29th January 2007

Public health experts have called for prescription charges to be scrapped and replaced with billing patients for certain treatments.

The Association of Directors of Public Health said charges should instead be levied for treatments and surgery largely considered ‘ineffective’ such as varicose vein operations and tonsillectomies.

And they questioned the viability of treatments like hip replacements remaining free to all.

Expecting rising demand for healthcare, the association predicted the NHS will be forced to ration drugs and operations.

Providing treatments where there is little clinical evidence costs the NHS millions, but introducing a charge would dramatically reduce demand, they said.

The group also speculated about the feasibility of allowing more serious procedures, such as hip replacement operations, to remain free in all cases, and the need to introduce charges for non-life threatening treatments, much as already exists with dentistry.

Spending on hip operations had risen a third since 1998, costing around £300m, while cataract operations has risen to £200m in the past eight years - a 40 per cent increase.

This is likely to continue to increase as the population ages and live longer, together with the expense of medical breakthroughs.

Health think tank, the King’s Fund rejected predictions of rises in demand, arguing that people use the most health resources in the last year of their life, irrespective of age.

But the British Medical Association is set to discuss issues of NHS rationing at its conference later this year. Agreeing it was an issue ripe for debate, the BMA said rationing already existed with restricted access to certain drugs. A view shared by the NHS Confederation.

But they argued against rationing core treatments like hip operations, which would go against the idea of a National Health Service.

Prescription charges have already been abolished in Wales and Scotland is currently consulting on the issue.

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